This is a ridiculously exciting week for Kansas City womxn dedicated to radical, positive change. From our launch party at Hotel Karaoke on Monday night, to the Design Thinking the Wage Gap Lunch-and-Learn on Wednesday, to the SHEImpacts Bus Tour on Friday, you will encounter thought-provoking content, stimulating ideas, and an all-around great time connecting with other innovators and advocates in our community.
Now who, you may wonder, is welcome at these events? Specifically, can men participate? Absolutely! As we stressed in our first blog post, IHKC is committed to inclusivity and this includes men. In fact, male participation – fathers, brothers, sons, colleagues, neighbors, friends, and partners – at our events is not only welcome, but necessary to our work.
This topic has been on our minds quite a bit lately, so it’s serendipitous that a New York Times opinion piece on the subject appeared in our Facebook group last week and stimulated some discussion. Ruth Whippman, an author working on a book about raising boys, reflects on the shape that modern feminist culture has taken – a shape that, Whippman feels, requires women to “be more like men.” Women experience such pressure as the result of a gendered hierarchy of values, as the Whippman explains:
As a rule, anything associated with girls or women, from the color pink to domestic labor – is by definition assigned a lower cultural value than things associated with boys or men. Fashion, for instance, is vain and shallow, while baseball is basically a branch of philosophy. Tax dollars are poured into encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects, but no one seems to care much whether boys become nurses. Girls are routinely given pep talks to be “anything a boy can be,” a glorious promotion from their current state, whereas to encourage a boy to behave more like a girl is to inflict an emasculating demotion. Female hobbies, careers, possessions and behaviors are generally dismissed as frivolous, trivial, niche or low status – certainly nothing to which any self-respecting boy or man might ever aspire.
The cultural hierarchy described above encourages an individualistic “self-improvement” mindset – “Women! Be more like men. Men, as you were.” Such an attitude, which isolates a women in a solitary quest for personal advancement, further suggests that there are “women’s issues” – equal pay, family leave, workplace harassment, and access to health care, for example – that it is a “woman’s job” to address. Thus the onus is on the woman to fix “her” problems by adopting a pose of “confidence,” “assertiveness,” and “empowerment” while, for example, corporations get a pass on changing their own unequal pay structures. In other words, gender inequality becomes a woman’s problem that she must fix by changing herself.
Consider, though, is it true that gender inequality negatively impact women alone? Does injustice against a mother, a daughter, a female co-worker truly affect only her? Rarely, if ever, is this the case for, as the seventeenth-century poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island” and no woman is either. A toxic workplace is a toxic workplace for all. Economic inequality results in diminished resources for partners, families, and entire societies.
To amplify this point, let me direct your attention one of our culture’s greatest fonts of wisdom – Harry Potter. OK, maybe not Harry Potter specifically, but the actor who brought us one of its iconic characters to life on the screen – Emma Watson, who played Harry’s brilliant classmate and friend Hermione Granger. Ms. Watson’s “HeForShe” campaign, which she announced in a speech before the United Nations in 2014, urges men to make gender equality their own cause and articulates sound reasons for doing so. “Gender equality is your issue too,” she argues, noting ways in which men are “imprisoned by gender stereotypes” that equate masculine identity with “macho” behaviors that damage men and boys’ self-esteem. “If we can defining each other by what we are not and defining ourselves by what we are,” Ms. Watson concludes, then “freedom” can be achieved for all genders. This freedom, I will add, includes the ability to share each other’s spaces and causes in a spirit of partnership and respect.
So can men join us? Absolutely, and we hope you do! Progressive, radical change is no easy matter and it takes all of us to pull it off. And if you come to our events, maybe we can raise a glass and have a little fun while doing it. For a schedule of Womxn’s Empowerment Week (WEW) events and ticket information, see this link.